Honors Thesis Research Leads to Woman of Distinction Award
Rebecca Scherpelz realizes
now that work on her honors thesis about the child soldiers of
northern Uganda actually started two years ago when she showed up
for a campus screening of the video "Invisible Children."
There, she learned about the civil war that's been waged since
1986 and the children who are abducted by the rebel Lord's
Resistance Army and forced to fight the Ugandan government.
She was impressed that a small group of California college-aged
students made the video and struck that the war had been going on
her entire life.
"Every day I've been alive, these children have been suffering
in Uganda," the Dublin, Ohio, native said. "That concept blows me
away every time I think of it. That really changed the direction of
By fall of her junior year, Scherpelz was promoting screenings
of the video on campus and taking Historiography with Dr. Vivian
Deno. The subject of Uganda became her academic focus in the
course. With Deno's help, she developed her research on the African
nation into a more extensive paper and then decided to turn it into
her honors thesis.
Scherpelz also pursued her interest outside the classroom. She
spent two weeks in Uganda last summer as part of the Power of
Children initiative of the Butler University Ambassadors for
Children, which is raising $35,000 to build a school in the Ugandan
"This will help empower the children of Uganda," she said. "They
could become the lawyers and doctors and teachers who help out
their countrymen in the north as the war winds down and people move
She participated in awareness rallies and lobbying efforts in
Washington, D.C., asking the State Department and United Nations to
help negotiate peace in northern Uganda and requesting a $25
million contribution from the federal government toward the peace
process. And she went to Chicago for an Invisible Children event
where participants slept in cardboard boxes in a parking lot to
call attention to the 2 million displaced Ugandans caught up in the
All this will be part of Scherpelz's thesis, "The Ghosts of
Uganda: Violence, Terror and Atrocity and the Child Soldiers Who
Suffer in Northern Uganda, 1986 to the Present."
"I went through the angry phase of 'The world isn't doing
enough' to the passionate 'Just go help the kids,'" she said. "I
hope the final result will be a combination of what's gone on and
what can happen next. I looked at historical context to understand
the present context and come up with a future projection of what
happens if the war continues or there's peace."
Scherpelz's work has been recognized with Butler University's
Woman of Distinction Award. She was applauded for her "outstanding
servant leadership on campus, in our capital city, and overseas to
bring awareness to the issues she researched in developing her
Lisa Markus, coordinator of the Honors Program, said what
Scherpelz has done is a good example of how honors students at
Butler pull together the different research opportunities they can
"The best honors theses come from students like Rebecca, who use
every opportunity they have and make it all fit together," Markus
said. "You never know what the puzzle is going to look like, but
it's always a puzzle only that student could put together."
And it doesn't end when the paper is finished, either. After
graduation, Scherpelz heads back to Uganda, first to work in an
orphanage in the northern part of the country for four weeks, then
to Kampala to work with 10 Butler students and others to finish the
It opens in September.
"I get nervous about the travel," she admitted. "But the risk is
not going and wondering what I could have done, could have helped
with. It's worth it."